By Michele Linder
At whatever stage in life you came to hearing loss, it’s likely no one gave you any specific information on how to deal with not being able to hear in a world that assumes that you do. No one instructed you on what to expect, how to react, or what to do to make communication easier. There’s no required Hearing Loss 101 class or orientation for newbies that teaches you how to navigate through difficult hearing situations.
There should be.
I recently posted a great article to our SayWhatClub Facebook Page that I read on The Mighty, a website that publishes “real stories by real people facing real challenges”. In the article, To the Girl Who Saw Me Struggle to Communicate, the author describes a process she’s gone through “hundreds of times” throughout her college career—standing in line at the bistro in the busy student café rehearsing her order before it’s her turn at the counter.
I’ll admit to wondering… if this situation is something she’s dealt with “hundreds of times”, why isn’t she better at it?
I’m going to break this simple scenario down for you the way I do for myself when I’m met with a situation that is difficult and uncomfortable to hear in, because I spent several decades letting these very simple situations turn unpleasant, frustrating and awkward.
Yes, I still assess situations that are new to me, rehearse, and use my super powers (lipreading, anticipatory and observation skills, etc.) to do all I can to make things go more smoothly, but no longer am I on pins and needles waiting for what can, and most likely will, go wrong, because—and this is really important…
I tell people that I can’t hear. Don’t be afraid, just do it. And, however you say it is fine… for me, I say “Hi there… first, let me mention that I’m a lipreader and I need to see you speak, so please don’t look down while talking or I won’t be able to read your lips. Lipreading is great, but it doesn’t always work, so I may need you to write down what I can’t hear.”, as I hold up my trusty pad and pen. That may seem like a mouthful, but it’s pretty much a given that anyone behind a counter—wait staff, check-out or bank clerk, etc.—is going to talk to you while looking down, so clue them in at the start of things and they’ll know better.
And, speak up when you foresee a problem. If, when you place your order, the counter person asks for your name, let them know you’re not going to hear them call you when your order is ready. Ask for a plan B. If they make a workable suggestion, great! If not, offer a solution of your own—“I’ll stand over there and watch for you to wave at me when my order is ready, but if I miss it someone needs to come over and get me.”
If something does go wrong and you miss a cue, and the aggravated guy behind you taps you on your shoulder and rolls his eyes…
Keep your cool. Because the minute you freak out, all the skill in the world won’t be of any use… you’re now so flustered that any ability you had to figure out what’s being said goes out the window.
And, do let rude people know—in as nice a way possible—that rudeness is not helpful. It’s not something they would want from others, so thank them for getting your attention, tell them you’re deaf and sometimes miss things, but also tell them the aggravation and eye-rolling isn’t necessary or appreciated.
If you need justification for calling them out…
Consider it a teaching moment. Express your hope that when they next encounter someone that seems to be not paying attention, consider that they might also be deaf.
If you do lose your cool, for whatever reason—someone has made you feel “less than” or you’re embarrassed at not hearing and panic—consider this…
It’s not your fault that you can’t hear. Stop buying into the misconception that you’re inconveniencing the world because you have different communication needs.
Stop pressing your lips tightly together and glancing at the scuffs on the toes of your black Converse low-top sneakers. No amount of fiddling with your hearing aids or wishing will produce an answer to the mysterious unknown question you didn’t hear. It will never magically appear out of nowhere in written form. But you can…
Have them write it down, thereby creating your own magic! Hand over your paper and pen, and say “You’re going to have to write that down, I’m not getting it… thanks.” Don’t pose it as a question, simply offer instruction for what you need.
It’s empowering when you realize you don’t have to leave difficult hearing situations to chance. When you actively participate in finding ways to make things play out as smoothly as possible, you’ll likely not need a gentle and helpful soul to swoop in and clue you in… you’ll be able to handle the situation yourself before it turns unpleasant.
However, as the author states, she was having an incredibly stressful week and was feeling extremely insecure, isolated, and alone with regard to her hearing loss, and we all know how that feels. It’s normal to have bad days when we feel vulnerable and don’t handle situations as well as we could. So, there’s no need to beat yourself up about it.
It’s certainly not my intent to beat the author up in any way, either. I’m really glad she wrote in such detail about her experience and gave the world a window into what life is like with hearing loss. We’ve all had encounters where we’re not in the frame of mind to be our own best advocate… sometimes we’re just tired of explaining. Her article made me think about my own bad days, how far I’ve come in my fifty-seven years, and how what I’ve learned along the way has made me stronger and a better person.
And, hopefully, on those bad days you’ll be as lucky as the author was at crossing paths with a particularly tuned-in person who took it upon themselves to step in and help, and who didn’t make a big deal about it.
Sometimes we, and others, can make hearing loss out to be a bigger deal than it needs to be.
Yes, it is a big deal that one whole sense is not working the way it was designed to work and it affects almost everything you do, especially how you communicate. However…
Take charge! Actively work on ways to eliminate what makes a situation unpleasant. Think of it as instruction that increases your self-sufficiency, which in turn makes you feel more capable. And, capable is what gets you out in the world to enjoy your life more.
Live more, isolate yourself less.
Most people with a disability want to remain independent and self-sufficient and to feel capable. Don’t you?